What’s up with humidity and horses?  What do I need to worry about?

I recently moved from Southern California to Virginia.  What you have heard about SoCal is true - it’s really 72 and sunny all year.  It’s also dry, as it’s basically a desert that butts up to the Pacific.  What you have heard about Virginia is also true - it’s hot and HUMID.  And when I say humid I mean like 70% humidity on top of 80+ degrees.  


I won’t lie - this was an easier adjustment for the horses than it was for me.  I’m struggling with out of control hair, the inability to smell good, and general stickiness that I don’t know how to deal with.  Although, sitting in the saddle on a humid day adds a bit of “velcro” to your bum!  Sure I joke, but when it’s humid it can spell real trouble for your horses. 


Horses (and people) are cooled through evaporative cooling.  Sweat moistens their skin and coats, and evaporation of the sweat lowers their body temperature.  When it’s humid, there is so much moisture in the air, the evaporation process is hampered.  Thus your horse can’t cool off, and in some cases may continue to heat up.  (BAD). 



This is yucky.  And sticky. 


So how do you combat humidity at the barn?  One, know when it’s too hot to ride.  You can start with a formula - temperature + humidity.  For example, on a particular day it was 92 + 70, giving 162.  Many Veterinarians warn against riding when this number is above 120, 130, 150.  Depends on the source.  But you know your horse - so talk to your Veterinarian and find a number that’s a starting point, and then judge from there.  You can always ride in the indoor, go for a trail instead, skip it all together. 


During the day - you also have a few ways to help your horse stay one step ahead of the humidity. 


  • Loads of fresh water.  In the summer, your horse may want to drink 20 gallons or MORE.  (He can lose 2-4 gallons an hour through sweat when he’s working).   Hang more than the usual number of buckets to stay on top of this, this way you are not refilling as much either. 


  • Add electrolytes to his meals.  This is in addition to his daily ration of salt - about 1-2 tablespoons a day is needed from a basic dietary standpoint.  I feed mine with their fortified feeds, as I can’t be sure they are using their salt licks daily for the right amount. Electrolytes replace what’s lost from sweat.  For more on electrolytes, read this amazing bit. 


  • Hose and scrape.  A cool shower sounds great, but it will actually heat your horse more if you don’t scrape it off right away.  Over the years (many, many years), I have become coordinated enough to semi-master the one hand scrapes as the other hand is rinsing.  



Not surprisingly, when the fans are going, the flies are gone!


  • Fans and more fans.  This can only help the evaporative cooling process, and as a bonus it just seems to blow the flies around so they can’t easily land on your horse. 


  • Shade.  If you have fans in the shade, that’s even better!  You may also find that the breeze outside is better than a fan inside the barn.  It pays to walk around and find the best spot for your horses. 



This horse show really caters to the horses. 


  • Modify your horse’s exercise routine.  This may mean that you don’t ride, only trail ride, or you get up way before the sun to beat the heat. 


How do you help your horse beat the heat?